The WNBA “More than Undefeatable” campaign‘s four-part series concludes with the Las Vegas Aces’ A’ja Wilson.
“What happens in Sin City, stays in Sin City,” said A’ja Wilson when asked what she had to say to Aces fans at the 2018 WNBA Draft after going first overall. An undoubtedly small moment in Wilson’s illustrious career, but an illustrative one nonetheless.
“Anything A’ja says is off the slide,” laughs Wilson.
“My agent will tell you. She probably cringes every time I say something, like, ‘what is she about to say?’ But no, nothing’s really planned, I’m a go-with-the-flow type girl, and I just like to have some fun.”
Wilson shoots from the hip but with world-class accuracy. She’s unscripted and wholly consistent in who she is on and off the court.
“Like it or love it, I’m gonna be me regardless.”
The Aces rounded into the number one overall seed and ran through 2022 to the best season in franchise history. This team has longevity; Dearica Hamby has been with the organization since it was still in San Antonio. Kelsey Plum, Wilson, and Jackie Young were drafted first overall by the Aces in a three-year stretch. Chelsea Gray came to Vegas two seasons ago.
Late in the regular season, the starting five set a record for most minutes played by a five-player lineup over a single season.
Wilson feels she’s taken a sizable step as a leader this year. That’s been pivotal in a young but seasoned group further gelling together.
“You look at everyone (on the team), and they bring different things to the table, and I feel like I’m starting to develop into being the emotional leader of it all and understanding that I play a big key into how we are mentally when we approach games. It’s tough. There’s a difference between being a leader and a boss. I’ve never wanted to be a boss. I’ve always wanted to be someone that my teammates can count on and the anchor of the franchise,” says Wilson.
Wilson, who just turned 26 earlier in August, is amidst her fifth year in the WNBA, and it equally feels as though she’s been the anchor of the franchise for a decade and like her rookie year just barely passed. When taking stock of what Wilson has done already, it’s stunning. Being named Rookie of the Year, an All-Star every season (there was no All-Star game in 2020 due to COVID-19), twice named to the All-WNBA teams (and a lock this season), multiple selections to the All-Defensive teams, and the 2020 league MVP.
She also has a good shot at MVP this season after adding to and rounding out her game even further. Her defense improved, and she became a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. She incorporated more long-range shooting in a new offense to better utilize her skill-set, a significant part of the league’s best offense and the second most efficient offense in WNBA history per Her Hoop Stats.
Wilson is indifferent to accolades; what happens happens, she can’t control the voting and how others choose to view her game, but she can control how she plays and impacts winning. She views herself as her own biggest rival.
“I don’t really pay attention to the outside noise or who is in front of me because I feel God has fully equipped me to be who I am, and I feel he’s given me enough to be what I can be. I’m battling with myself at the end of the day. I focus on me; how can I be a better teammate? A better person? I just let the rest pan out. I can’t really pay a lot of attention to the accolades, but at the same time, I don’t take for granted how blessed I really am,” says Wilson.
She’s big on being true to herself and says she always tells others to do the same. What’s the point if you’re not being authentic in who you really are? She’s always going to bring the same energy as a person.
“It took me a minute to kind of gather that, and it doesn’t mean you have to figure out who you are right that minute; sometimes it takes time. It’s just being consistent in that.”
She’s transparent in who she is while still protecting her peace. If you haven’t already, you need to read her piece at The Players’ Tribune.
While Wilson largely has accolades out of sight and out of mind, it’s wild when reflecting on where she’s already at as a player in the league and league history as she’s just now entering her prime. She’s on the path to being one of the all-time greats in the sport and has already cemented herself as such.
Legacy is important to her, and further establishing her own is at the forefront. She believes in “different paths to greatness” and finds hers rooted in team play. She wants to win a title with and for the Aces more than anything in basketball.
“It’s all about winning. When you do that, people can’t take things away from you. They can’t take that championship away. They can’t take that MVP away. They can’t take anything away if you’re winning and forever engraved in the history books. I think that’s the show of greatness and legacy,” says Wilson.
She wakes up every day with a fire for competition and a drive of ‘How can we win today?’ and has fun while doing it. She recognizes her parents for that drive and determination instilled in her at a young age and furthered as she got older. They made immense sacrifices for her growing up in South Carolina and to have the opportunities she’s had throughout her life.
“Giving it back to them and not slacking off is so key for me. I have to give that credit to my family.”
Wilson hates losing and ‘gets hot’ losing at anything in life, she says as she laughs.
She took last year’s loss to the Mercury in the postseason hard but also took it in stride and ran with the takeaways from a hard-fought series.
The Aces had a 2-5 skid from late June into the All-Star break. They went 12-3, including the Commissioner’s Cup Final, to close out the season and return to form. Wilson mentioned how important the break would be for the team when we spoke in Chicago, which played out directly.
That early exit in the playoffs last year was pivotal in helping the team fight through adversity and staying composed, says Wilson. I’d argue that the late-season run after the All-Star break was more impressive than their hot start. Being able to adapt and find their winning ways again is indicative of a different mindset and that added experience in 2022.
“I think our core understood how painful the loss was last year; we didn’t want that feeling anymore,” says Wilson.
“We’re trying to do whatever it takes to make sure we’re not in that position. It all starts with people sacrificing for one another, understanding how far we’ve come, but knowing that we still have a long way to go.”
Still, having a long way to go is a scary proposition from a team that’s already made a Finals appearance with Wilson at the helm. The Aces faced the Seattle Storm in the 2020 Finals, and that Storm team is undoubtedly different; they have a similar but further seasoned core and have a bevy of different players on the roster. It feels much longer ago than just two seasons prior.
Yet, this Aces team is almost unrecognizable. Kelsey Plum missed the Bubble with injury and has developed into a star over the past few seasons. Jackie Young is the likely Most Improved Player, and her rebuilt jumper has changed the playoff dynamics for this team. Wilson was the MVP then, but her game has only improved in nearly every facet since then.
That 2020 series isn’t on Wilson’s mind. It’s all about the here and now. You don’t cement your legacy by reliving the past. She’s not tense about the competition but instead sees it as an opportunity.
“Coming in (to the second round) is like a breath of fresh air at this point. We’re coming in with the mindset of understanding that we really have to focus on us, what we do, and the little things that matter. Everything counts here.”
Regardless of what happens in the Semi-Finals, Wilson deserves her flowers and then some for a stellar season and an outstanding start to her professional career.
A’ja Wilson is more than undefeatable for her approach and her mindset. The genuine way she attacks life and basketball is easily identifiable in why she’s become as successful as she has. She’s not afraid of the moment; she lives for it and in it.
She doesn’t see obstacles. She sees opportunities and revels in the chance to prove herself, further push her team forward, and build her legacy one step at a time.
WNBA reporter Mark Schindler writes a column on WNBA.com throughout the season and can be reached on Twitter at @MG_Schindler. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.